UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2009 / 0504 - Fair Trade Moves Congregants to Action

Fair Trade Moves Congregants to Action

By Judith Santiago*

May 4, 2009—On April 5, worshipers at Beach Lake United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania waved palm fronds as they joined the annual Palm Sunday celebration that marked Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. However, the palms that they waved carried additional significance in that they symbolized fair trade. The congregation was moved to action as child labor and fair trade issues became the theme of this special service.

Beach Lake UMC's pastor, the Rev. Mark Terwilliger felt it was important to remind his congregation about fair trade and to use this educational opportunity on the problem of child labor. He chose this "Eco-Palm Sunday" to show his congregants a short film about child labor abuse in cocoa producing farms in Africa. At the end of the film clip, the sanctuary was silent as the congregation reflected on what they learned about child slave labor. Rev. Terwilliger took the opportunity to point out the difference between buying chocolate from a local store and supporting fair trade.

The US imports 50 percent of its cocoa from the Ivory Coast in West Africa where thousands of children, as young as five years old are trafficked into slavery. As opposed to fairly traded cocoa which is bought from democratically-run small-farmer co-operatives that prohibit child labor or slave labor practices.

"Consumers in the US have come to know little about how their food is produced," said Rev. Terwilliger. "What they typically value most is the cost. Awareness is a first step in developing convictions."

After the service, fair trade chocolate was available at Beach Lake UMC for sale. The response to buying fair trade chocolate was much higher than usual; however, raising funds was not the priority, but rather education, advocacy and awareness that prompt change to consumer behavior.

Taking Up Fair Trade

Beach Lake UMC is no stranger to fair trade. Since 2007, the church has purchased over $14,000 worth of Equal Exchange products through UMCOR's Coffee Project, thanks to Terwilliger's own convictions about fair trade. Equal Exchange is a 100 percent fair trade, worker-owned co-operative that partners with co-operatives of small-scale farmers who make their own decisions on business and community matters, as well as how food ends up on your table.

Through the years, Rev. Terwilliger and his wife Phyllis have been learning to make daily changes in their food buying, eating habits and gardening practices. They understand the value of economically just and environmentally sound food systems, as they are both 10-year members of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.

"Beach Lake UMC and Rev. Terwilliger are prime examples of how a church and an individual can be a catalyst for lifestyle change; living out 'justice' in all aspects of our daily habits and consumer choices," said June H. Kim, UMCOR's Hunger and Poverty executive.

Rev. Terwilliger first learned about fair trade in 2005 when he was working for Global Ministries and was invited by June H. Kim to meet Equal Exchange staff and one of the leaders of a fair trade cooperative.

Since then, the church has enjoyed the coffee and has increasingly supported UMCOR's Coffee Project and its partner Equal Exchange. Beach Lake UMC's Global Mission Committee has incorporated the purchasing of fair trade goods as a ministry and today they carry a full inventory of Equal Exchange products to promote fairly traded goods.

Eco-Palm Support

In 2007, UMCOR partnered with the Eco-Palm Project, an effort of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the University of Minnesota Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management. This social and environmental justice project helps to sustain forestry, protect local jobs and preserve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers by ensuring fair wages.

Beach Lake UMC supported the Eco-Palm effort and since has ordered nearly 900 Eco-palm stems for Palm Sunday services and to send home with pre-school students, using the opportunity to educate families on fair trade issues.

This year, United Methodists were the second largest denominational purchaser of Eco-palms in the US ordering over 115,300 palm stems for Palm Sunday services.

A Step Toward Lifestyle Change

"Supporting Eco-palms, the UMCOR Coffee Project, and the 100-Ton challenge, should not be a goal in itself but rather an entrée to purchasing and consuming fair trade, organic food and other products," said Rev. Terwilliger. "It should be a step toward changing our buying and eating habits, simplifying our lifestyles, and being considerate of those who produce what we consume."

Change came immediately to a local high school teacher, a United Methodist visiting Beach Lake UMC on Palm Sunday from a neighboring congregation. She was won over by the taste and quality of Equal Exchange chocolate and is considering having her students sell it for a fundraiser next year. Last year, Denise Daub, a Beach Lake UMC parishioner initiated an Equal Exchange gift basket project where she prepared decorative fair trade baskets as Christmas gifts that included informational literature about fair trade.

Rev. Terwilliger adds, "Methodists have historical precedents for connecting food with social justice...we have the opportunity to be a prophetic voice proclaiming that we can no longer afford to continue supporting the production, purchasing and consumption of "cheap" food."

How You Can Help

Observe World Fair Trade Day, May 9 with your continued support of UMCOR's Coffee Project and its partner Equal Exchange through your purchases of fairly traded coffee, tea, cocoa or snacks. You may also give to UMCOR-SA&D Program, UMCOR Advance #982188 to help sustain the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. Online Giving

*Santiago is a Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications.